Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adding Speed Work

(Thanks for the idea for this post, Trisha. Hope it helps)

Ok, I told you why I think speed work is good for your training. If you have decided to up your game and add some speed work to your routine, but you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas.

I think a lot of people equate speedwork with track work. Certainly, the track is a great place to do 
speed work, but it is not the only place. I find that some people have a very negative visceral response to the track and avoid speed work because of it. Maybe it is due to bad memories from high school/college track, the brutal objectiveness of the 400 meter oval, or the sense that the track is just too boring, but some people have a strong opposition to running on the track. However, if you aren’t opposed to the track, there are many advantages to doing speed work there, including:
- a smooth, even surface
- easy availability. Almost every town has one!- a standard distance that allows you to easily compare progress from week to week
- the ability to run with people much slower/faster than you and still feel like you are working out together
- and in many places, lights, which are nice for early morning and late night workouts.

An easy place to start is to pick a distance and do “repeats”, such as 8-12 x 400m, 5-10 x 800m, or 
3-5x 1600. Start with a lower number of repeats and add on as you get more fit and are able to hold the paces consistent for each repetition. The amount of rest you take depends on how hard you are running: the harder you run, the more rest you need, but in general a slow jog for one lap is a good recovery. Repeats are great workouts for fitness, but are probably the most mentally challenging track workouts.

To keep things a bit more interesting, a variety of distances over one session can be useful. One example is a “pyramid” workout, such as 400m-800m-1200m-1600m-1200m-800m-400m. Or perhaps something like 3x1000m, 3x400m, 3x200m will stave off monotony. This breaks things up mentally and also allows you to hit a variety of paces in one workout.

Our group typically does workouts similar to those listed above every Monday, but we have two “hard core” workouts that we do once or twice a year each, named "The Michigan" and "The Meghan". These tough workouts aren’t for beginners, but if you’ve been doing speed for a while and are looking for a brutal workout, here’s what we do.

The Michigan: (and because we are all 4:45 milers, our times match the example times listed on that link. HAHAHA! Also, we do the whole thing on the track with 400m jog between intervals)
1 mile “fast”
1 mile “tempo”
1200 m “fast”
1 mile “tempo”
800m “fast”
1 mile “tempo”
400m “fast”

The Meghan (named after Meghan Arbogast, who casually mentioned this to me as a sample workout that she does. No wonder she is crazy fast at 50+!)
2 mile “tempo”
And then repeat the whole thing!

As mentioned, the track isn’t the only place to do speed. Plenty of hard running can be done no matter where you are. Good examples of this are a “tempo” run: Warm up, run at a strong (but not all out) pace for 10-30 minutes (my favorite is 20 - long enough to be hard, but not too long to wear you down) and then cool down. Another example is what some people call fartlek. But we call it minutes, probably because we are too juvenile to say fartlek with a straight face. After a warm-up do a sequence of hard minutes followed by an equal amount of moderate (not totally easy) running. For example, tonight my husband Mac did 8-4-2: which is 8 minutes hard, 8 minutes moderate, 4 minutes hard, 4 minutes moderate, 2 minutes hard, 2 minutes moderate. You can make up any sequence you want (5-5-5, 3-4-6, 2-3-2-3-2, are some other examples), aiming for about 20-30 minutes of total effort for the speedwork part.

One last option to add a little extra intensity to your training is a hill workout. This is easy: find a hill and run up it! Your speed will depend on the length and steepness of the hill. Jog back down to recover.

Jack Daniel’s running formula tables may be useful in determining appropriate pacing (Not everybody likes JD, but I find the tables useful as a general guide). However, I don’t think it is important for a beginner to get too caught up in hitting specific times. Just getting out out there and running harder than your typical run is a good place to start. Don’t try to do all three types of speed work in one week! Start with one day of higher intensity running per week. You can vary the workouts from week to week for variety and different types of training benefits. And be sure to warm up and cool down before and after, respectively. 

Good luck with training!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Need For Speed

I wrote this some time last year explaining to someone why I thought speed work was good for ultrarunners. This week I had the discussion again with another friend who didn't think there was any point to do speed work when her training was geared toward a mountain 100 miler. I believe speed work is good for all runners who want to improve their running, regardless of the race distance. That's why you'll find me on the South Salem High School track every Monday morning at 5am. (No, you don't have to start your week with speed work; that's just how we roll in Salem!)

The necessity of speed work is debated amongst ultra runners. The two general sides are: Yes, speed work makes you fast and fit so you should do it vs. You can get fit running in the mountains and you don’t ever have to run fast in an ultra, so don’t bother.

Geof Roes and Anton K. are good examples of successful runners who don’t do speed work. But they run in the mountains…A LOT! A lot more than most people can handle physically. Plus, who has time for 3-5 hours of running nearly every day?? 

Gary Gellin, winner of Way Too Cool, calls himself a low mileage guy and also stated he does not do speed work. Instead, he got faster just by doing 2-3 hour runs every other day. But it took him several years of consistent running to get to the high level he is at now. So, yeah, you can get in great shape without speed work… if you have a lot of time and a lot of patience.

According to a 2011 study from the American College of Sports Medicine, just 2 weeks of high-intensity intervals improves your aerobic capacity as much as 6 to 8 weeks of endurance training. High intensity training is the most efficient way to improve VO2 max. A person’s VO2 max is tightly correlated with performance in endurance events. Certainly speed work is not the only way to improve VO2 max. But for people with a real life outside of running (or for people who just don’t want to spend that much time running every day), speed work is a valuable tool to improve fitness.

For ultra-runners the purpose of the speed work is not so much to train your legs to move fast, but to train your cardiovascular system to handle high physical stress and high metabolic demands. But besides improving fitness, speed work has other benefits:

- Improved range of motion. Ultra-runners usually develop a very efficient little stride. Unfortunately, this involves limited range of motion. Speed work forces you to open up your stride, lift your knees a little bit higher, pump your arms a little bit more, and stretch out those hamstrings. This is good for range of motion and improved mobility.

- Better leg turnover: No, most people won’t be hitting anything near their top speed in an ultra, but most ultras have at least some part where good leg turnover is an asset, particularly flat roads and smooth down hills. Better turnover in non-technical areas will lead to better finish times.

- Mental boost: When you watch your interval times fall, it is good feedback that your fitness is improving. Also, it is good knowledge for an ultra that you can recover after feeling totally spent. In interval workouts, you run hard, but then after just a few minutes, you are recovered enough to do it all again. The same principle applies to ultras – you can run up a hill, feel totally exhausted but then recover on the downhills, so you can do it all again on the next hill.

Speed work is a valuable tool for increasing cardiovascular fitness and V02 max, particularly for time crunched runners who don’t have all day to dedicate to training.

Friday, January 18, 2013


I had two beers New Year's Day watching football and then decided: That's it! Time to clean up my diet. I am real lightweight, so the beer may have had some input, but I must have meant it because I put it down in writing (goal #6 no less!). So I decided no sugar and no flour for all of January - kind of a watered down version of paleo or whole 30. Well, the my hubby weighed in over 170 for the first time in a long while and after hearing a friend's story he got a bug up his "Mac Ass" to do Dr. Oz's cleanse diet. 

After reading a bit, it was hard for me to fathom how the hell I hadn't dropped dead yet since I had never "cleansed" in my 38 years. God forbid, I let "80,000 toxins" continue to wreak havoc on my body, plus there was all the added benefits of "resetting" my organs to function properly, jump starting my metabolism, increasing my energy, replenishing my nutrients, balancing my hormones, and relieving stress, and cause you to lose lots of weight. Wow - can you believe you can do all that with just three days of juice! Yeah, that's sarcasm for those of you who don't know me too well.

So, yeah, I was a bit cynical (when am I not?) about the claims, but I couldn't see how eating, er, drinking a bunch of fruits and vegetables could be bad, so what the heck? Fire up the blender! It's only three days, right?

We decided on Tuesday-Thursday because Mac thought it'd be too hard to do on the weekend with other activities, but with my Thursdays off, I only had to do two days at work. Plus, it only hit one hard run day.

Tuesday breakfast started ok. The smoothie tastes pretty good, but after chugging it down, I was kind of longing for something else. Uh oh - this could be a long three days.

But it turned out not to be the case. I never got super hungry and my energy levels were good throughout. I did 31 miles those three days without any problems.

The dinner shake and snack (repeat of breakfast) were also good. The lunch shake was a different story. The taste was actually pretty good. With green apple and pineapple, it had a sweet-tart taste. Unfortunately, it had the exact look and texture of pond slime - the think hairy green kind in the most stagnant pools. It wasn't really chewable and yet the texture was too thick to easily drink - kind of like a slurpee, but not in a good way. But Mac and Liam brought the shake to me at work both days, so at least I had good company while swishing slime.
Slime tastes better with cute company

Excepting the texture of the lunch shake, I had no problem completing this. I did add in an extra tablespoon of almond butter on day 2 and 3. While I wasn't hungry, the desire to chew something was overwhelming! It is amazing that I didn't knock Liam out and steal those Frosted Mini-Wheats just for some crunch! I am not sure if my organs are reset and my hormones rebalanced, but I do feel good. I only lost two pounds but Mac dropped 7. He obviously was a lot more toxic than me. ;)

I did come away with a desire to eat a plant based diet incorporating more variety of fruits and veggies. So that was a plus. But I was so happy to be able to eat real food again. So happy that I immediately made soup to eat for Friday. Um, maybe not the best planning. 
Friday morning, free to eat whatever I wanted. So I had another smoothie. And then soup for lunch. Good job on adding texture back to the diet!
I am still dedicated to limiting refined carbs, but I have no desire to be perfect. Like tonight when I made cupcakes for Megan's birthday party tomorrow, I licked the beaters. And the spoon. And then I dipped the spoon back in the batter and licked it again. And of course, I had to sample a cupcake when they were done. Oh my god - can you imagine my toxicity levels after that?? So I got on the treadmill and ran an extra 2.5 miles to sweat it off -ha!
This is not the actual cupcake I ate. It's what Liam left me on my iPhone after having some fun with the Cupcake Maker app. He also left me these:

Bon Appetit!
(funny aside: spell check wants to change the above to "ape tit". Happy Ape Tit to you!)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mac Ass

I keep joking Mac Ass is not something I call my husband when I am mad, but rather it is short for the McMinville Fat Ass. However, it does have a nice ring to it and I may have to adopt that little nickname in the future!

But for me, this was a Fat Ass in the true sense of the word - a great early season day on the trail with lots of good friends and no pressure. Heck, I didn't even bother to finish the whole thing!

Mac was planning to only do 15 miles, while I was going to do the 50k, but when he figured out the loop was long, he cut a bit, so I caught up to him and ran the last two miles in with him because at that point it was more like Mac (Feels Like) Ass, so I knew he could use the company and it is always nice to get an opportunity to run with him. By the time we jogged it in, plus stopped to talk to Gaby and Michael Libowitz from Long Run Picture Company, I was way behind the main pack of 50k'ers and the hot food and blazing fires were so inviting. Not having much of a real training agenda right now, 18 miles and three hours of running seemed like a fine place to stop.

I always look terrible in race photos - my face muscles go slack when I run so I always look like a zombie.  Same reason I don't do well sleeping upright - my jaw goes limp and I end up snoozing with a gaping maw like a bear cave - not pretty! Now I see the secret to great race photos: Stop and smile! Thanks Michael for one of the few good photos on me on the trail!
I was surprised by the great trail system in McMinville and would love to get out there again. But the biggest surprise was the restorative nature of the trail run. Saturday afternoon, I told Mac my legs felt better than they had in a month. And by Monday my abysmal track times from  week ago were history. So with that, I guess I am fully recovered. Now time to start training for real so I can shred up my legs all over again!

This was a great way to stick to the New Year's plan to race less - all the fun of a big event, with none of the fatigue. Thanks to the organizers for getting this together and even bigger kudos for getting a sunny day in Oregon to do this.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What I Learned At Desert Solstice

I signed up for Desert Solstice to hopefully learn something about running 100 miles successfully. I promised to share what I learned, so here goes:

Nutrition: I think I have found a fueling combo that works for me and it is almost all liquid nutrition. The big change in nutrition for me at Desert Solstice was using Perpetuem. I got a bag of Perpetuem about a year ago and I made a test sample right after I got it. I thought it was gross and it has been sitting in my cupboard ever since. But over the years, I have found I really cannot palate sticky sweet foods late in a race. This rules out basically every gel, chew, chomp and bar out there, plus more than half of the standard aid station fare. On a whim I decided to pack Perpetuem. Yes, I tried something completely new on race day. The funny thing was that unlike in my kitchen, I didn’t mind the chalkiness of the drink, and as weird as this sounds, I actually liked it. I tried to drink a bottle the next day and it was gross again, so the key here seems that it is only drinkable while running. I also drank 2 Ensures(vanilla) and about 48 ounces of root beer. My only other calories were one handful of pretzel sticks and 2 Clif-shots. An important note: I am not sponsored by Hammer and I paid full retail price for the Perpetuem, so this is an honest endorsement, not just a sponsored athlete shamelessly pushing product. Oh, and you should buy La Sportiva shoes. ;)

Toe socks: I’ve gotten a couple of pairs of promotional toe socks, and always thought they were cute but nothing more. I lose all my toenails no matter what, but I really only get blisters if my feet are wet, so most of the time I don’t pay much attention to my socks. With the forecast of rain I knew there’d be a good chance of wet feet for a lot of the time, so I went with the toesocks to prevent blisters between the toes (mostly where I get blisters). Around mile 65, I stopped to address a hotspot on my left foot (the start of my timing band snafu), and ended up changing into a regular sock because the toesock was too hard to put back on. By the end of the race, my left foot had three times the blisters of my right. Granted the left had a hotspot to begin with, but it seemed significantly different to me. So much so that I wrote to the toe sock company thinking maybe it would be a good sponsorship fit. In effect they said, “Good job on your run; here’s a coupon for you to use.” So it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting boxes and boxes of free toe socks anytime soon, but I’ll save my coupon for Western States. :)

Noakes may be onto something. I haven’t read the book Waterlogged, but I read a couple of reviews and I attended a talk from Liza Howard, enough that I think I get the gist: Drink to thirst, about 400-800ml/hr (~13-27oz/hr), and extra salt is not necessary. I drank 1 scoop of Perpetuem in 12 oz of water every half hour for the first 8 hours. I only felt bloated just a little right around that point, so I took my only two salt pills for the entire race. After that I switched to Ensure and root beer and cut down my fluid intake and never had any more problems, nor did I need any more salt. It was cool and rainy much of the day, but still, 2 salt tabs for 15 hours of running blew my mind.

No caffeine: Caffeine is a known ergonomic aid, meaning it can make you perform better. It can also lessen the sensation of fatigue. I have used caffeine in races for these reasons; however, I do very little caffeine on a daily basis and I am very sensitive to it. More specifically, my colon is very sensitive to it. I was totally spent after 100 miles, but another factor that kept me from making it the 200km was diarrhea that started right after I crossed the 100 mile finish and which lasted all night long. (My caffeine consumption at Desert Solstice: 2 double shot Clif-gels, one at 8.5 hours and one at 12 hours=400mg of caffeine total). Basically, I will save caffeine (single shots or ½ shots only!) for major downs, but I do not plan to use it routinely in races ever again. It just isn’t worth it for me. This probably isn’t such an issue for people who better tolerate caffeine.

I will always love road racing, too. Ok, don’t throw stones just yet. I love trail running, but I still really enjoy road racing, too. I know a lot of trail runners are purely trail runners, but I think I will always be a hybrid. When I race, I love to get in a groove and just GO! It’s the most efficient and I do well at it. I do pretty well at trail races that allow you to find a groove, such as Miwok and Run Rabbit Run, but I think that is one of the reasons I don’t do very well with technical trail - I just can’t get into a repetitive cadence that suits me. So I’ll race a mix of everything for the love of it, but when I really want to feel fast and smooth, I’ll be hitting the pavement.

One goal at a time. I can have extreme focus, but I realize now I can only do it for one thing at a time. I got derailed from the 200km goal, because I added in a new goal. I put a lot of focus on the new goal and then I wasn’t able to refocus on a new task after that. Talking to several people at the 24 hour race, they also had this issue. When I run a 50k, I always finish and think I couldn’t go any farther, but on other days I go out and run 50 mile races with no problem. However, at the end of a 50 miler, I’d tell you I couldn’t go any farther, no matter how slow, yet I know I can do 100km and even 100 miles. The mind and body can accomplish whatever you set out to do, but if you set your sights short, I think it is very hard to subsequently add in a new challenge. Next year at Desert Solstice, there will only be one goal: 200km. I think the same goes for training, and I’d do better training for one race at a time.

I am hoping some of this stuff comes in handy for Western States and hopefully, some of it helps you a little bit, too. Happy Trails (and roads!).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking Back and Ahead

2012 was a good year. The highlight was definitely standing atop the world podium with my awesome USA teammates at the 100k World Championships. TransRockies was also an epic week, and in some ways, it truly was life changing. I ran 15 races in 2012, which included a 3k cross country race, a local 5k, several 50k's, a high altitude 50 miler, two 100k's, a trail 100 in a dreadfully slow time and a track 100 in a fast time. I traveled to Italy, California, Arizona, Washington, Texas twice and Colorado twice for running events. Certainly not the globetrotting a lot of top ultrarunners are doing these days, but I feel lucky to get to any new place just to run, even Texas! (Just kidding, I have always loved the winter trips to Texas).

I think it is a good idea to be continually setting new goals for oneself, rather than just putting together resolutions for the new year. However, January 1st does feel like the beginning of a new cycle, especially since I am just coming off a couple of down weeks and am getting ready to ramp things up a bit. So here are my running goals for 2013:

1) Run 3,000 miles. In general, I don't care about my mileage all that much. I track it, but if my week ends at 59 miles, so be it. And when I am tired I take days off. In fact, I take a lot of days off, because after races, I am tired! But I have been within 200 miles of 3K the last three years (last year only off by 31 miles). So this year I plan to be over...just because.

2) Race fewer miles. Note that I did not say race fewer times! I love to race and I usually rise to the occasion. I like the anticipation, the strategizing, the feeling of giving it everything. I also like running in different places and seeing different people. But I almost felt like this year, I was recovering or tapering all the time, without very many solid blocks of training, one of the reasons my mileage stays low. Also, I did a few races where I was not at my prime and my results showed it. Substituting a few 10k's and half marathons for 50k's hopefully will scratch the racing itch, but allow me to get back to training more quickly.

3) Nail Western States. I don't have a place goal or even an exact time goal (though, at least sub-20 hours). I don't care if I miss the top 10, I just want to finish the race and feel like I had a really good run for me. So far, I have struck out! Maybe 4th time is the charm. I know a lot of people obsess over Western States, and I agree it really is something special, but I am ready to mix things up a bit and try something different than WS. But first, I want to feel like I ran it one time really, really well.

4) Another gold for Team USA. The US women should be fielding another very strong team this year. The British team is also likely to be very strong, especially if Ellie is on the team. But hopefully, the US can hang on to the gold and I certainly like to do my part to see that happen.

5) Break the 200km American Record. This was my goal for Desert Solstice. I got a little greedy and let another goal get in the way. I am not unhappy with my decision or the outcome (well, ok, I wanted sub 15 hours, but I am still happy). However, I have unfinished business, so it looks like 500 laps on a track is in my near future. Shocking that more people don't attempt this, huh? ;)

6) Nutrition. Good goals are suppose to be concrete and measurable. I don't really have one for this category as I am not trying to hit a number on a scale or follow a specific diet plan like Whole 30. But I eat too much junk food and it is all sugary sweets. I have no desire (or will power) to cut out all treats, but I need to get rid of the attitude of, "Wow, somebody brought doughnuts to work, so this must be a sign from the Heavens above that I should eat a doughnut today." Mostly, I wouldn't care, except a lot of people are talking about nutrition helping with recovery. I don't think my recovery is great. Time to stop whining and start trying new things.

7) Do Yoga. I hate to stretch. It is boring, it hurts and it is a painful reminder that I am as flexible as a 2x4. So I bought a ten punch card to a local yoga place. I plan to use it once a week. If I still hate it, at least I can say I did yoga for a while whenever someone else suggests it to me.

8) Address my lower ab/groin/hip pain. I always call this my pelvic pain, but I don't know that it has anything to do with my pelvis. My lower abs feel tethered; I get a pinch in the inguinal region when I lunge or step up on something high. This started last year around CIM. It bothers me, but it doesn't stop me from running. It was at its worst right around Bandera, but it has never gone away. So I am going to have my C-section scar dry needled (needle in a haystack??) and will see PT if that doesn't work. Again, time to stop wishing and start doing. Besides, the wishing didn't work. :)

Hope you have some great goals for the New Year, too. So much to look forward to in 2013!